Improving F1 means solving a three-dimensional problem (Making F1 better)

Containing costs to allow new teams in is vital for F1

Containing costs to allow new teams in is vital for F1

Cost, Safety and The Show. If you want to get anything changed in F1, these are the three criteria you’ve got to satisfy.

So how do our ideas for making F1 better measure up?

The Show

Ordinarily I avoid using the phrase ‘Improving the show’ but I use it here to make a point: however much the powers-that-be in F1 talk about improving the show, the reality is they can’t do it by compromising costs and safety.


F1 has been preoccupied with cuttings costs for years. But the onset of the credit crunch inspired a new urgency in efforts to make F1 cheaper as the teams faced dwindling sponsorship revenues – which the blank bodywork on the Sauber and HRT cars makes painfully clear.

If costs get out of hand teams will drop out, leaving F1 races with dwindling grids.


Formula 1 has gone 16 years without a driver fatality and it’s nine years since the last death due to an F1 race.

But it will not prevent further fatal accidents by resting on its laurels – and the governing body understands that. Felipe Massa’s escape from a shocking accident at the Hungaroring last year was thanks to recently introduced advances in crash helmet safety.

But what about…

There are other important factors – but none as decisive as these three.

For example, there is a growing recognition of F1’s need to support the car industry in its efforts to reduce emissions and waste. But the teams’ collective decision to abandon KERS this year to save money shows that other priorities – containing costs – trumps that need.

What the 3D problem tells us

There’s been a lot of criticism of the number of small changes made to the F1 rules each year. This season we’ve had a new points system and a rule forcing drivers who qualify within the top ten to start the race on the same tyres they qualified on.

These can be seen as attempts to solve one part of the three-dimensional problem – improving the show – while not making the other two problems worse.

But even if these changes have helped in some small way I doubt anyone would say they’ve cracked the problem of improving the quality of racing in F1.

I suspect real progress will only be made when someone makes the call to sacrifice one of the three parts to improve the other. But that will not be an easy decision to make.

For example, in January Adrian Sutil claimed part of the reason F1 had become less exciting was because of track like Yas Island which are “too safe”.

Can F1 afford to give track designers more freedom to create exciting circuits, with faster corners and less run-off, and improve the show – potentially at the expense of safety? Sebastien Buemi and Natacha Gachnang’s accidents two weekends ago are powerful arguments against relaxing safety standards at F1 tracks.

Over to you

We’ve all got ideas for how we would make F1 better – hundreds of them have been shared here in this series the past few days.

But are they all realistic? Can they pass the three-dimensional test? Pick an idea that you think would make F1 better and see if it does.

Are there any changes F1 can make that would improve the show without pushing up costs or risking safety? Are there some changes that are so important that accepting compromises on costs or safety are necessary? Have your say in the comments.ta

This article is part of “Making F1 better”, a series of articles looking at ways to improve Formula 1. Fore more information see the introduction: Making F1 better: a discussion series

Making F1 better

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111 comments on Improving F1 means solving a three-dimensional problem (Making F1 better)

  1. rampante said on 26th April 2010, 19:33

    Cost cutting is the worst road to go down. I have watched for 40 years and there have always been smaller teams in the sport and also doing well. F1 is a sport and sport is big business. football teams will have double the budget of F1 teams and that is wrong. There are many categories available to race in without making F1 budget. To keep it the best requires money and if you don’t have it go somewhere else. I am not saying that we should return to quali and race engines and the use of 40 sets of tyres but if you can generate money let them spend it. Sponsors are leaving because F1 is losing its position. Reduce the politics, allow creativity and let the team’s race. Too many teams are upset and concerned by 2mm areo flaps/F ducts/diffusers etc. Please remember the days when at the first race of the year cars turned up with 6 wheels and hovercraft fans. F1 is about technology.

    • That was a party political broadcast on behalf of the Ferrari party.

      • yes, and although Ferrari have a huge heriatage, a massive following of loyal fans, and years of success, their opinon is to be ignored, because people disagree with them.

        Oh, it is even worse a fan agrees them, because then they are just been ‘horse wispered lies from LDM’, or blindly whorshiping at the alter of ferrari. After all, if you are a ferrari fan, you opinion is somehow tainted. Lets ask the fans of USF1.

        • Gilles said on 27th April 2010, 12:10

          I remember Ferrari becoming a bit irrelevant in the early 90s, because of their lack of performance.
          I’d say sponsors are leaving F1 because of the ‘business case'; it’s harder to have a meaningfull return on 100m than on 40m.

  2. Jim N said on 26th April 2010, 19:41

    Personally I’m very confused by F1’s so called safety standards. In my simple world something is either considered safe or it is not. I cannot see how something is acceptable at one track but not at another. That to me is double standards and totally illogical. The street circuits particularly Monaco have far less run off and far harder barriers than the permanent circuits. If a poor road surface, Armco barriers etc are perfectly safe enough to stage the Monaco grand prix, then why can’t the new circuits like Yas Marina on similar speed turns have no run off and Armco like Monaco…. if that’s not safe then why are we still racing at Monaco (mind you we all know the answer to that!)….. I don’t ever want to see another driver die, but the cars are so strong now and the dangers of places like Monaco so consistently ignored that to me the argument about track safety rings hollow.

    • Rubbish Dave said on 26th April 2010, 23:22

      Monaco is also considerably less quick than other circuits, due to much shorter areas or acceleration and higher drag. So while the walls may be closer, there is also much less speed to be disapated when they’re hit.

    • Henry said on 27th April 2010, 14:20

      Yup, monaco is far lower speeds, so less danger…yes the car will be smashed up but the driver should be fine – unlike what might happen is one comes off the shanghai straight at 300+ kmh

    • I completely agree, it’s completely illogical that they reduce the challenge of the likes of Spa and Suzuka with huge areas of run off, whilst introducing street tracks with no run-off like Singapore, Valencia and soon Rome.

      Safety in F1 shouldn’t come at the expense of diminishing the challenge. Replacing gravel traps with run off areas means the challenge is significantly reduce without much safety benifit.

  3. Chaz said on 26th April 2010, 19:45

    I’m curious. Sutil says some tracks are to safe. I’d like to ask him if he thinks it’s possible to build a safe but driver challenging track and or if there is a circuit of this nature in the F1 calendar this year or in general does a track of this kind exist anywhere or are these question an oxymoron in themselves lol…

  4. jordan said on 26th April 2010, 19:51

    look at the china GP, it proved an exciting race, a show. why don’t we look at why that was good and copy it.
    one reason why it was good, was that head wind at the end of the straight. now you cant put a wind machine at the end of the track, but we could design the stands to channel the wind to the cars, making it easier for silpstream cars to over take. its a bit out of this world but any thing to encourage overtaking

  5. Gilles said on 26th April 2010, 19:56

    Fix the core issue: wake turbulence. If cars can close up on each other, there will be more overtaking and hence a better ‘show’ no matter which track they’re driving on. It would make all tracks more or less interesting. I would go for wing cars, focus on aero which is less dependent on clean air.
    Is this more costly ? I think not: all development teams are in place, they just need to design their car differently. Keep standardization and resource restrictions, they keep most of the field on the same level and hence more chance of close racing. I said this before: FIA/FOTA are on the right track in this area. I heard they’ll introduce a small turbo with kers for 2013, great idea ! If 2010 produces the same racing excitement in the dry as it did in the wet, then it’s actually hard to point to improvements. But that can be said for all wet races off course. I expect 2011 and 2012 to be very interesting as the big teams will have to start scaling down to the levels of Brawn.
    In order to spice up things, I would introduce a US GP on Indianapolis and a French GP at La Sarthe. Maybe an additional aussie GP at Bathurst and US West at Laguna Seca. This would be less safe compared to the current standards, but wouldn’t need to cost that much.
    Current tracks could be tweaked in order to improve overtaking, with driver input off course. I’m thinking a long the lines of: the outside track in Bahrain instead of the current infield, sharpen some corners in Singapore. If they can’t follow closely enough however and slipstream, all this would be to no avail.
    So, more Show and still the same Cost, at the expense of a bit of Safety.
    You can grill me now !
    Extreme idea: introduce a tunnel so that an F1 car can actually overtake upside down. Clean air on the ceiling, wouldn’t that be spectacular ? I propose putting a white line at the end which you cannot cross to improve safety, like the pit exit.

    • Aww, you’ve been watching the Schumacher commercial!

    • “I would introduce a US GP on Indianapolis and a French GP at La Sarthe. Maybe an additional aussie GP at Bathurst and US West at Laguna Seca.”

      Now thats a calendar i’d love to see!

      • Sean Newman said on 27th April 2010, 9:20

        Once upon a time all the F1 tracks were very different, each with their own character and challenge. These days the tracks are nearly all the same. The new far east fly away races are just a blur to me. I constantly get confused which track I’m watching the race on.
        This is one of the reasons why Indycar is so good to watch. The variety is unbelievable. Bring back the old Ostereichring, Interlagos and Hockenheim. Those were true tests of driver and car. Even Monaco has gradually been homogenised with low kerbs and a few run off areas. The real point I’m trying to make is the improvement in saftey is a good thing but it has reduced the challenge imeasurably. Bring back the challenge!!!

  6. Regarding cost and the quality of the show, I think there’s plenty of debate as to what could be improved but we’re definitely moving in the right direction regarding safety. Naturally this has an impact the performance of the cars, and consequently the show, but safety should be considered the most important of the 3 “dimensions” above.

    I think that if the FIA really wants to cut costs, the first thing they need to do is stop changing the rules every year. If we had only minor changes, the smaller teams would have a better shot at competing. The larger teams would still outspend them, but if you had a set formula for several years, the rate of improvement would decrease from year to year. This would get the field closer together. A little rain in the mix, and the lower teams have a chance at good points positions.

    To improve the show…again, we only need minor changes to allow overtaking. I think the teams have already agreed on some changes regarding the floor and the diffusers that will help next year.

    I do think that the teams should be allowed to come up with clever tech if it’s relevant to real world applications. KERS for example, should be one of the areas where there are few restrictions. Maybe require Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault to make their systems available to the smaller teams, with each team able to supply a maximum of 4 other outfits.
    Limiting the rate of progress of green technologies doesn’t make sense if the FIA really is trying to be more green…

    • mr.t said on 27th April 2010, 18:57

      Regarding KERS, I’m not sure there are that many systems — my understanding was that McLaren was the selected supplier for the whole grid in 2009 and Williams was the only other team that developed their own system.

      • mr.t said on 27th April 2010, 19:04

        That’s not to say you don’t have a valid point, no matter how few suppliers there are.

      • PJA said on 28th April 2010, 9:33

        You may be confusing KERS with the standard ECU. The FIA decided to introduce a standard ECU to help police the banning of electronic driver aids a few seasons ago and McLaren were chosen as the supplier.

        Most teams developed their own KERS but Williams were the only team to develop a fly-wheel based system.

        The Mercedes KERS which McLaren used was rated as the best but Ferrari, Renault and BMW all developed and raced their own systems.

        Honda were developing their own KERS before they pulled out of F1 and I think Toyota had a system but never raced it.

        If some customer engine teams such as Red Bull or Force India had decided to use KERS they would have used the one made by their engine supplier.

  7. bring along turtle shells and magic mushrooms to replace KERS in the future, dont ask me how I got the ideas I can’t for the life of me remember…….just work with me here.

  8. Fation said on 26th April 2010, 20:13

    I have been reading the last few posts about “improving the show” but had never commented before.

    I think one of the things that is easy to leave out of the discussion is tracks.

    We have seen circuits like Turkey, Valencia and Abhu Dhabi produce boring races. On the other side tracks lke Spa, Brasil, Australia and Suzuka almost always produce a good show.

    What F1, in my opinion, really needs is more exciting and different tracks like ovals ect.

  9. Icthyes said on 26th April 2010, 20:17

    My favourite solution, cutting back on aero, would reduce costs and improve the show, and probably make things a lot safer too, with reduced cornering speeds.

    But as for the tracks, I think more could be done to make them safe but stop them from being giant cotton-wool wrappers. After all, if Monaco was deadly there’s no way it would be on the track in the form it is, even if it is Monaco.

    I say, if a track is safer than Monaco, it’s safe. I keep harping on about it, but Kubica’s crash in Montreal showed that the blessed high levels of safety in F1 have a lot more to do with the car than having acres of run-off areas.

  10. If they don’t cut the costs, teams will go under. Fact of life, sure as eggs are eggs etc.

    Soccer teams have huge budgets, but they are living beyond their means and soon, as we are already seeing, it will come crashing down around their ears. £100,000,000 players? Do me a favour!

    We can’t have sport being ruled by how big a bank balance you have. It has to be something more human than that. And yes, you may say, what about Toyota? Well, Toyota was a good example of why, no matter how much money you have, it’s best to stay away from things that you know little or nothing about.

    • rampante said on 26th April 2010, 23:00

      Why don’t you go and watch people race fiat pandas or renault twingo’s. If you have watched this sport for any time you will know it is about development and money. Jordan, Stewart Toro Rosso etc have all done well on small budgets don’t drag everyone else down. As Toyota Ferrari and Mclaren have shown in the past money does not buy success, talet does.

      • VXR said on 27th April 2010, 1:30

        “Jordan, Stewart Toro Rosso etc have all done well on small budgets don’t drag everyone else down.”

        Have they indeed. Scraped together the odd lucky win in their fight against obscurity. Maybe we should just be thankful that they’re ‘making up the numbers’ and F1 can go on thinking that everything is rosey in the garden when in fact it shouldn’t be too surprised if more teams drop out at the end of this season than did last season.

        Heres a line from Ascanelli of STR, I think that it sums up his thoughts and that of other “small budget” teams quite nicely with regards to the current state of F1.

        When asked if he would be developing an F-duct (I want one for my car) for his own cars the answer was no:

        “That’s because if I have ten euros in my pocket and I’m hungry, I buy two sandwiches with it instead of three grams of caviar,”

        “As Toyota Ferrari and Mclaren have shown in the past money does not buy success, talet does.”

        So why so negative towards a budget cap then?

        • yes, but limited rules result in team spedning a lot of money developing things like ‘tuning vanes’. There is a budget cap. It is differnt for each team, as it is called thier budget.

          Small teams will strugle to compete on this smaller ‘budget cap’ when they are spending money on tunning vanes, light wheel nuts, F-ducks etc. When the rules are so tight in some areas, it encourages development to the nth degree to gain a competitive advantage. Where as, if they were greater restrictions on areo, but more open rules with regard to suspension systems, kers, a range of enigne options, etc then smaller budget teams are more likely to be able to affoard to be able to think outside the square and beat the bigger teams.

          But money has always, and will always be a challage, as it was for tyrell, and stewart, so it will be for STR

          • Gilles said on 27th April 2010, 8:25

            IMHO there will always be good and bad teams, but a situation that only 2 teams can actually win should be avoided. 99 was more interesting than 98 as Jordan had a chance at winning the crown. Yes, Hakkinen vs Schumi was a nice battle; but what about the other 18 cars on the grid ? They would just be in the way. Why bother extending the grid then with new teams as the money will go to the established ones where chances of success are higher and with them the benefit for the sponsors ?
            Money should be spent on car development, not on temporary appartment blocks in the paddock.
            The key is finding the right balance and there I must say the resource restrictions are a good idea. All teams will be more or less the same size and the best people can still show how good they are. Some parts are spec, but there would still need to be enough room to explore and differentiate. A tough balance to strike, as the dynamics of the sport will ensure successfull designs are copied. But where do you want them to spend the money: on wings (not road relevant) or on suspensions (road relevant) ?
            I would be nice to see Virgin get their act together as the CFD technology seems very relevant,and cheaper. This is a nice area to lead the field, as are all the simulators the teams have set up. Replacing wind tunnel with CFD would already bring down cost without necessarily putting steps back.
            As money is indeed always a struggle, it seems to be more about the level of expenditure than the relative expenditure between them: 40m are easier to find than 200m…

          • but gilles,

            If a team wants to “waste” money on a temporary appartment blocks, than that is their choice. Sure, they could spend that money on development, or tey could spend that money entertaing their corporate guess, who then pay the bills. They are not forced to spend money on those facilities, they choose to. Just like people have talked about restricitng the number of people at a track. Personally, i dont think having an extra 30 people looking at computer screeens telling me data will win me more races, i would rather have theat money spent on people back at the factory. But, the teams choose to bring them along, so they must have made the judgment call that it was worth it.

            Putting all the money into cfd also, would mean that aero would still play the dominating part? Yes, cfd is a great technology, and is geting better all the time. But open up the rules, so instead of running 5 wind tunnels 24×7, do some cfd and some aero, but more resources are diverted else where because the marginal return on spending the money else where is greater, and it is allowed in the rules (kers, suspension etc, etc)

          • sorry about the spelling

        • rampante said on 27th April 2010, 9:19

          F1 has never, is not and never will be egalitarian. If you take any team from any 4th division of any sport you can see what real life is and F1 is not part of it in the same way Seria A, the premiership and la lega are to their respective leagues. You are talking about a level of equality that not even Marx thought possible.

          • Gilles said on 27th April 2010, 12:02

            True, a marxist F1 is not the ideal. The line of thinking is more to have the grid within a reasonable gap of each other whereby all have a certain chance of winning, albeit a very small one when you’re at the back. The outcome of the race should not be a foregone conclusion. In this respect I would say the current restrictions are working and as of next year we’ll start seeing the importance of all those people on the track, staring at computer screens. If the restrictions would not have been there, Mercedes would not have bought Brawn. Would they have continued investing in the engines? If not, would another manufacturer have stepped in? New entries all point to the costs involved. Even Ferrari needs money from Fiat in order to survive. Opening everything up will ensure that only the big teams survive and we will eventually end up in Di Montezemolo’s street: make these teams bigger to ensure a proper grid size. Would you watch 5 ferrari’s racing 5 mclarens ? Remember that without this budget idea, you would be looking at a 8 team grid. How realistic is this ?
            But one team can be better at finding sponsors or simply be more attractive to them than others, so a certain gap will always exist. The question is how big of a gap you want to see and in which area this gap will develop.
            In La Liga, at the end of the day only one of 2 teams will win the championship – unless they both screw up every ten odd years or so. The premiership at least has 4-5 teams battling it out, which makes it much more interesting.

  11. bonekrusherf1 said on 26th April 2010, 20:58

    WhatEhat about the fans? Why can’t we have any say to how f1 should progress, after all we are the ones that buy the tickets for the races, the merchandise from the teams, and we supply the tv ratings for the races.

    1 For one the tracks for the most part are fine except for a few where u have a long straight followed by screwy turn like turn 1 in china. Some of these tilke design tracks are like this and the cars can’t go deep into the turn to overtake then have a good enough exit. Example hairpin turn at French gp is a great place for overtaking.

    2 Bring testing in season back but have them on the thursday before Friday practice. Open the gates and sell tickets to the fans for the test session.

    3 Loose the big aero to allow clean air for following cars. Bring back more mechanical grip and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE yes I said it four times, bring back the awesome sounding V10. That engine actually sounded like the cars were going somewhere, and to hear that sound of the car accellerating, going by and taking off was and is the most excited thing I have witnessed in motorsport. I live in America and started watching f1 in 2000 when they came here to Indy and was instantly a fan just from the engine sounds alone. Now I’m a hardcore fan that can’t get enough F1. So please please bring back the v10 and let the FANS have a say in the matter, after all F1 isn’t F1 if it doesn’t have fans.

  12. John H said on 26th April 2010, 22:33

    There is no problem. F1 is just fine for me.

  13. a_canuck said on 26th April 2010, 23:30

    How about specifying a maximum amount of downforce that a car is allowed to generate? Define a set of standard wind-tunnel tests that teams will have to submit their car to at the beginning of the year, and any car that has in excess of the max amount of downforce has to be modified to meet the rules. Throughout the year, as a team makes updates to the car it is up to the team to ensure that it does not exceed the regs, and if any team believes that a competitor is not playing within the rules, they can have the competitor’s car tested. If the car is within specs, they challenger pays for the testing and takes a 12 place grid drop for one car or 6 place grid drop for both cars at the next GP. If the car is not within the specs, the team running the car pays for the test and takes the drop in places instead.

    Probably a whole host of complications I haven’t thought about, just came up with it off the cuff.

    • I think that’s a good idea minus the grid drop penalties.
      Red Bull would just make STR make the protest, McLaren or Mercedes would make Force India do it, Ferrari would lean on Sauber or STR.

      And for this to work they’d really have to open the areo regs up so that all the teams can have different solutions to the same problem otherwise it will just end up as spec areo…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th April 2010, 14:16

      Impossible to police.

  14. Mikemat said on 26th April 2010, 23:48

    One thing that Formula 1 needs to do, in my opinion, is be a bit more fan friendly. Red Bull’s (and other teams’) events in cities are a great idea but they’re the only major team that really does it. I would love to see teams doing stuff like that during the off season and to places that are markets ready for F1.
    Another thing that can be done is have the drivers really show their personality a bit more. I mean we see an occasional interview and that’s about it from these guys. I want to feel a personal connection with some of these drivers.

    Finally, as I am a little biased, bring F1 back to the US. A huge market is missed out and alienated. Get a track like Watkins Glen, Road America, or Laguna Seca. Sure they’ll need some fixing up but I mean come on… Bernie can share.

    • yes, i want burnouts (unlikely now due to engine limits for the season), flag waving etc. F1 is great, but it can be a bit too precious now days. Like drivers have to click their wheel back in before they go hug them team! what a pathetic bit of red tape that is.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th April 2010, 14:18

      Another thing that can be done is have the drivers really show their personality a bit more. I mean we see an occasional interview and that’s about it from these guys. I want to feel a personal connection with some of these drivers.

      I think that’s a good point but how do you encourage something like that?

  15. Rubbish Dave said on 27th April 2010, 0:12

    I agree with John H. No real problem here. How many fans does the sport have? Plenty, no problem there.

    But a few further words.

    Track Design. Does really need to be opened up to more than one person (or company, really) who seems to be running short of ideas. The new portugal circuit is stunning in comparison to the new circuits on the actual calendar. Although, admittedly, not so good for overtaking judging by the GP2 races there last year.

    Runoff is an interesting problem. A simple solution would be to have an added compulsory pit stop if you ran too far off track, much in the same way that you’d need to replace a punctured tyre if you brushed a wall. But emotionally, there’s a gulf between hitting a wall, so giving yourself a penalty and Crossing a line and having stewards give you a penalty.

    The other issue worth a few words is cost. A large problem is CVC taking an awful lot of money out of the sport. (Blame Max for giving up the rights to Bernie for so long, and so little)
    But then, you’ve also got the problem of expectation. I don’t know about anyone else, but I thought Minardi et al brought an awful lot to the sport even when running so far off the pace due to having a fraction of the big teams budgets – variety being great and all. But somehow, the expectations have changed, and teams aren’t allowed to run so far off the pace without somehow being an embarrasment to the sport, and so the playing field has to be brought down – something which runs quite contrary to the spirit of grand prix racing for almost all of its life. I’m not really in favour of homogenising the whole grid- teams having different goals has never really been a bad thing. For Minardi, points were as much of a result as a win was to a Ferrari or a McLaren. And so I’m loving the new teams and their own ‘unimportant’ battles this year. They bring a lot to the sport, and I have very little time for anyone who disparages them for not really being able to realistically challenge for a win.

    • Spot on about CVC. I’ve yet to see them invest a penny in a sport. I hold them totally accountable for the lack of HD among other things. We won’t improve F1 till they have been removed.

      • Gilles said on 27th April 2010, 8:33

        Right indeed about CVC. They make their money by getting as much as they can out of the sport, and not by putting extra money in. In that respect, Bernie’s quest for more races outside Europe can easily be understood: all these countries pay the bill for the race and the revenue goes into Bernie’s pocket. What a nice position to be in…
        I would suggest a NHL/NBA-like series, whereby all participating teams get their share, rewarding more for behavior in the interest of the collective good (the show as a whole).

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